Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war

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    2008: return to the base



    February, 24th - 26th: Mary Ann Gworek and Jerry Whiting

    (Photoreportage by Mary Ann Gworek and Giovanni Marino)

    Runway area. We are now on the taxi strip used from the aircrafts of the 829th and 830th Squadrons. On the track of the taxi strip, after the war, a road has been constructed. Antonio Preite explains to Renato Mancino: here people worked for months, throwing tons of stones to consolidate the ground before the laying of the pierced steel planks of the runway and taxi strips.


    Mary Ann Gworek and Giovanni Marino take photos, Jerry Whiting takes a film. Vito L'Erario, surveying with GPS, gets the nickname GPS man. We leave the runway and head towards the fields, searching for the tent camps of the four Squadrons that made up the 485th BG.


    When we arrive close to a ruined wall, Antonio Preite remembers, heads into a field and framing the distances from several reference points. Then Antonio calls us: he has found the exact spot where the tent of Jerry's father (Wayne B. Whiting) had once been, where often visited during the war. The tent of TSgt Walter K. Gworek, from the same Squadron (831st), had to be near. TSgt. Gworek, however, was not in Venosa very long: his B-24 was shot down on May 29,1944 over Vienna, and he was taken prisoner by the Germans. So Walter K. Gworek didn't return to the base to get his items; destiny, after many years, leads Mary Ann, his niece, back to Venosa.

    The ruins of the wall (on the above photo:  muro)   mark the 831st Squadron tent area. We know that not much more beyond the wall is where the 485th BG Headquarter had to be; unfortunately the HQ remains outside the area seen in our aerial photos taken in 1944. From the wall we see an isolated farm: it seems to be the same house in one of the books written by Jerry. 
    We have luck meeting now the farmer, Mr. Francesco Rienzi, who confirms for us that the farm was indeed te once Headquarter, and in 1980 another group of Americans had visited this area, arriving by bus. 


    It's really the Headquarter: the small houses on the right side of the main building were the commander's lodging, and so called "the White House".

    Until some years ago, a flag pole still stood in front of the building; later a windstorm knocked it down. We wander in the little garden, near some metal tubes, maybe supports used in the aircraft maintenance, and slabs of PSP.

    On the ground we find a military buckle.    


    Francesco Rienzi shows what he calls "the seat of the pilot" and a "machine-gun belt". After a brief examination, the seat doesn't seem to be a part of an airplane. From a plaque on it we can read that it's something made in England: we understand it had to belong to a Bren Carrier, a British small tracked vehicle. The belt doesn't appear the type used on airplanes; later we will discover that the same factory of the seat had developed patents for belts for anti-aircraft ammunitions. Both the objects, certainly, belong to the British anti-aircraft Unit in charge of to defend the airfield. 







    Behind the building there is a little room in which we find a heavy wooden box. Ammunition case? No, a case of Peroni beer: the label is still visible... The building, indeed, was used to sell comfort items (beer, cigarettes, etc). 





    We find also bomb fins, now rusted. After the war many similar material was sent in foundry; in Venosa its said that when the Americans went home and left the base, the people saw many pyrotechnic displays for some days. Really fireworks? Probably, remains of materials and ammunitions busting into flames. The visit to the airfield ends here. Or rather, it ends at the restaurant (that, during the war, was a military brothel...).
    Agata Gallý gives us a little surprise: a hand embroidered sheet, made of many silk segments sewn together. We show it to Jerry and Mary Ann: it's parachute silk. In time of war and during the years that followed there was a rough poverty of all, but many were able to find this silk: and the nuns of the convents embroidered many sheets, nightgowns, petticoats... 

    The visit of Jerry and Mary Ann in Venosa is too short: we would have like to have them with us longer. Thre's only enough time to meet Rino Savino, also interested in the airfield, and to quickly visit the Chiesa della Trinitŗ (Trinity Church), that guards the tomb of Roberto Guiscardo, the medieval knight who was first Duke of Apulia, as well a quick visit the house of Orazio.



    August, 15th - 16th: John Schill, Chris e Myron Schwery

    (testo di Pasquale Libutti)

    2008: Mr. John Schill.
    Lying behind: Mt. Vulture, view
    from the old Venosa airfield.
    1944-1945: Schill crew-830th Sqdn-Replacement crew (photo 485th BG).
    The individual positions of the crew in this photo have not been determined, but the crew is listed as follows: Arthur Cook, copilot; John Frost, bombardier; Robert Gaffney, gunner; Maurice Hellman, radio operator; Michael Pasalakis, tail gunner; Stephen Paynic, nose gunner; William Pehlke, waist gunner; Frank Sandoval, flight engineer; John Schill, pilot; Clyde Snyder, ball gunner, and Philip White, navigator. Gaffney and Hellman were killed while flying with Gambrill on the April 10, 1945 mission to the front lines.



    John Schill photos
    John Schill missions (click to enlarge)
    House built on Air Base
    During the war Lt. John V. Schill was a pilot. He took off from the Venosa airfield, flying in 30 combat missions. In 1945 he came home, with all of the 485th BG. On the 15th and 16th of August, 2008, he returned to the base leading an other crew: his nephews Chris and Myron Schwery.
    Mr. John Schill is now a peaceful, humorous gentleman, with a powerful build in his eighties.
    I and Vito L'Erario anxiously awaited him, reading his trip itinerary: coming from America, he had to land in Roma Airport, catching another plane from Rome to Naples, immediately continuing with car to Venosa. All that on the 15th of August (national holiday and, notoriously, the worst day of the year to travel in Italy), right in the middle of the excessive heat of an unusual summer dryness; not to mention the jet lag.
    We had no idea, waiting Mr. Schill, about his many return flights to Venosa, much more tiring and dangerous.
    Here is one of his missions.


    December 27, 1944
    By Steve Paynic


    Because of poor flying conditions this was the second and last mission flown in December. This, our eighth mission, was a blood curdling experience. We were to bomb a railroad marshalling yard. This was supposed to be a "milk run" with no flak, no fighters. As I recall there was only one small box of B-24ís on this mission. Schillís crew was flying the number two position next to the lead plane. As we came in on the bomb run, I saw two clouds of smoke from exploding German anti-aircraft. Suddenly with a loud bang and a crash our ship was hit and rocked hard. The nose turret was hit by flak and made a five inch hole in the upper right hand side of the nose turret in which I was sitting. Shrapnel hit my steel helmet and the chest of my flak suit. The helmet came down upon my nose and bloodied my nose, but not too severely. A larger part of the shrapnel went over my right shoulder and into the bombardierís compartment where parts hit John Frost, our bombardier, and a greater part of the fragment went through the bottom of the plane making a six to eight inch hole in the process. John got a purple heart out of this experience.
    Our B-24 was a new silver ĒJĒ model which came recently with a new crew from the States. It was hit hard. Number two engine was on fire. John Schill, our pilot, Art Cook, our co-pilot, were revving up the propeller to try to blow out the flame, while Sandy, our engineer, was in the rear trying to splice the rudder cables together because they had been sheared. John had to feather another engine because it had a runaway propeller. The wing suffered damage. The waist window was blown out and broken. John Schill was able to stop the fire in the engine by turning off the fuel supply. In all of this excitement, the pilot rang the bell for preparation to bail out. We were out of the range of the enemy and we were flying with two engines, fortunately one on each side. John cancelled the bail out warning. As we came down the Adriatic coast John had to make a decision as to whether we could cross the Adriatic or whether we would land on one of the emergency islands on the coast of Yugoslavia. He decided that we could make it home. Sandy was able to repair the rudder cables also. We did make it to our home base in Venosa.
    None of the crew were severely injured. The B-24 was battered quite extensively. It was worse than originally determined as the wing spar (the main framework of the wing) was shot through and ready to go anytime. Engines had to be repaired or replaced. It was reported that this plane had 270 flak holes. It took the ground maintenance crews two months to get the plane in flying condition.
    John Schill, Earl Cherry, Art Cook, near the water tank back of house. A fighter's drop tank?
    John Schill, Chris and Myron Schwery
    Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war
    HOME Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war 15th USAAF, Airfields  in Apulia
    Thanks to the 485th BG Vets First contact Old ties
    Mount Vulture, Old Sawtooth Life at the Venosa Airfield during World War II  The kids of Venosa and the airmen
    Bombs Away, the magazine With the eyes of the children 2008: impressions
    2008: return to the base Bibliography & Links INFO
    Search and texts: Pasquale Libutti   rapacidiurni@gmail.it       Page connected to www.storiedelsud.altervista.org